One day when I was in college, I remember one of my professors going to the chalkboard and drawing a large circle about two feet in diameter. He looked out at us and asked, “What is that?” We all said, “It’s a circle.” I heard my voice over of everyone else’s. I usually felt dumb in his class so I was thrilled to be able to know the answer to something. He said, “Now, would you call it a perfect circle?” We quickly blurted out our answer, “No!” Then he said, “Okay, maybe it’s not a perfect circle. But, could you accept that it is, indeed, a perfect “whatever-it-is?” We all laughed and eventually had to agree with him.
He was pointing out that we were judging what he had put on the board to a particular objective standard and, finding it unable to meet that standard, had declared it imperfect. I didn’t realize the significance of his demonstration until many years later.
It hit me that his example was being played out with nearly all the couples I counseled. Each person had an image, an idea of how a perfect mate was supposed to look and act. I imagine it came from observing their parents, other couples or from books and the media. They were measuring their partner against this standard and were finding him or her imperfect.
In moments of candor, they admitted that they were also applying this image of perfection to themselves and were coming up short. They could often hear a critical voice quick to point out that they were not meeting their own standards. No wonder they couldn’t be happy with themselves or with their partner.
Early in my marriage, I saw myself doing this to my wife, Lauren. I had a standard for perfection in my head for a wife and she wasn’t meeting it. This seemed to fuel my criticism of her and justified my pressuring her to conform to my ideal.
Then I thought back to when we were first together before we got married. I distinctly remember thinking to myself back then that she was, in fact, perfect. I loved everything about her. So, what happened? I wondered, Could she have changed all that much since back when we were dating? I was pretty sure she hadn’t. Something had changed in me. I was judging her the way I never did before and I believe she was doing the same thing to me. Compared to our standards of perfection we were both failing the test. I was determined to understand how this happened and how we could get back to where we once were with each other. The result, as you may have guessed, was the development of my Powerful Partnershipstm Program.
As I write this, we are three days away from our 27th anniversary. When I tell her, in all seriousness, that I think she is prettier now than when we first met she shakes her head and looks at me as if I’m crazy. She doesn’t see what I see. I think the same holds true in reverse with respect to how she sees me. I’ve come to understand that it is the experience of love and acceptance that makes things and people into perfect “what-ever-they-are’s.” It’s love that colors our perceptions and allows us to see beauty and value as absolute–not relative to some external standard. It’s not that we lose our ability to make distinctions or comparisons, it’s just that when we are in the experience of love, we don’t focus on those things. We don’t see our partner relative to someone else. They seem perfect the way they are.
Let me know what your experience has been with perfection. I’d love to hear your comments about this or any of my previous blog posts.